April 17, 2014

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Slamming stories in under six minutes

Eve Bernhard/Collegian

Whether it is due to a bad grade in a biochemistry course or a mistake at work, sharing a tale of missteps over a beer is common practice for some college students.

It is also the theme of an event at the Food For Thought Books Collective tonight.

At 8 p.m., at the downtown bookstore, students and community members will share stories about making bad choices.

“The theme of the night is ‘Doing it Wrong: Stories of Trial and Error.’ This show’s theme is very general, and thus inviting. We figure everybody has a story about making bad choices,” said Remy Schwartz, an organizer of the event.

In an informal, bring-your-own-beverage setting, the event invites audience members to tell an  autobiographical story, five to six minutes in length, about a mistake they’ve made in their lives.

“We don’t want anyone to memorize lines or anything like that,” said Schwartz. “It’s a good idea to have your first and last lines in mind though, and ad-lib through the middle.”

He added that, “No notes or props are allowed.” Stories are expected to range from funny to sad, though all will be genuine.

The seven to nine performances will be judged by an “applause-o-meter.” Modeled after a scene in the movie “That Thing You Do,” the amount of positive feedback each performer receives will affect their rating. The storytellers will be rated on a scale ranging from poor, to good, to galactic.

The local story slam is based on events organized by The Moth, a non-profit based in New York, which has held similar live storytelling events across the nation since 1997.

Schwartz said his inspiration for organizing the event came from his involvement in The Moth while home, in Chicago.

“I told [stories] a number of times and won once, and got an opportunity to compete in the coveted ‘Grandslam.’”

When he began attending Hampshire College he felt “there was an absence of live storytelling.” He proposed creating a local chapter of The Moth in the Valley but, when this was rejected, formed an independent study course to create a local storytelling group, called The Broth.

The group held its first event in December, and tonight will be second event.

The first Broth event, held at Haymarket Café in Northampton, featured Hampshire student Henry Epp, who shared a story about a 60-hour bus ride home to Minnesota and back to Amherst on a Greyhound bus.

“We were in Rochester, N.Y., stopped at the Greyhound station, and Rochester is right on the Canadian border,” said Epp. “So, we’re sitting in Rochester and a white van pulls up to the bus, and it says border patrol on the side, and three border patrol officers get on the bus and start checking IDs. They get to this one woman who has an ID, a passport from, like Uganda, or something, and they just pick her up and put her in the van. And we never saw her again.”

He spoke of a connection in Cleveland, Ohio, where, “on my right was a woman having a really loud argument with someone on the phone while holding her two-year-old child on a leash. And the child was acting like a human tetherball around her, running around to see how far he could go. And she was just yanking him back.”

Amid laughs from the audience, Epp described the trip as “like having acid flashbacks, kind of, except they’re Greyhound flashbacks.”

Similar stories can be expected at tonight’s event.

Schwartz said literary aficionados, news junkies and those that like stand-up comedy will especially enjoy the event, though he recommends all interested attend.

“Storytelling is universal, and it’s the oldest form of human communication,” he said. “Tons and tons of people enjoy live storytelling, even those who may not traditionally like live comedy or poetry or open mics. It’s a totally different event than any of those; it compiles all the best qualities and trims all the fat away.”

“[The event is] about connecting the audience and the storyteller,” he added. “Chances are, especially with ‘Doing it Wrong,’ you have made the same mistakes, you have felt the same feelings, and you have shared their perspective. It’s unbelievably unifying.”

Michelle Williams can be reached at mnwillia@student.umass.edu.

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